Writer-director Vincent Sweeney recently completed production of Blue Ridge, an independent feature about J.T. and Sara, a young couple who live in a run-down mobile home park in the rural Appalachian foothills. J.T is somewhat of an oddball who earns a living working on car tires and doing maintenance on mobile homes. Sara is an innocent girl who recently lost her last family member. She falls in love with J.T. and encourages him to follow his dreams. Standing in their way is the owner (played by Sean Gullette) of the trailer park, who wants J.T. to join his bizarre hedonistic lifestyle.
Sweeney felt this “rural tale of love and hate” needed to be told on film, and despite a “minimal budget,” was able to do so. In the following interview, Sweeney talks about making Blue Ridge, and shares his budgetary solutions for other independent filmmakers.
IC: What was the overall look you wanted to achieve for Blue Ridge?
Sweeney: When writing the film I pictured it warm,vsomewhat color-muted, wide-screen, and subtle in its camera moves. We needed to keep bright colors and all reds out of the frame, if at all possible, and keep to earth tones; rust, wood, late summer green and so on.
Why was film the right choice to tell this story?
I really didn't see any digital acquisition possibilities with this story and location. The image needed a life to it, not a sterile frame. I really wanted to feel the picture and 16mm's grain can help do this. We were shooting in one of the most fertile places on earth, the mountain valleys of rural Virginia. There are bugs, trees, grass, animals and colorful people on every square inch of it; how can you shoot that with some stationary sensor?
You used an Aaton LTR 54 Super 16 camera, primarily with 16mm and 12mm Optar primes. What stocks did you choose?
Much of the film was shot outside so we used the (KODAK VISION2 250D Color Negative Film) 7205 and some of the (KODAK VISION3 250D Color Negative Film) 7207. We would often shoot into magic hour, and sometimes switch to an interior day shot, so the 250D gave us lots of freedom with a pleasing texture. When we went inside, we stuck with the 200T most of the time. The camera had a subtle warming filter on it when outdoors, and one of the main sets was a real mobile home from the 1970s which had plenty of wonderful, old wood paneling. We marked the monitor for 2.35:1 and cropped the final edit for that. The 16mm format with a 2.35 matte can be impressive, and is a unique choice that few exploit.
Many indie filmmakers think they can’t afford to shoot film, what do you think are the most common misconceptions?
I see a gap in understanding cost-effective film post-production among the indie crowds. I often find producers who think film is many, many times more expensive than it really is. I think producers and directors are afraid of what it means to deal with a lab. It really couldn't be much simpler; you send your film to them and you get back a hard drive with ready-to-edit files in your choice of codec, with sound already synched up. You can decide to online or offline the edit these days. The choices are endless. We online edited Blue Ridge with Final Cut Pro, so post costs were kept very low but we were still able to achieve a look that you just can't get with any other format.
Also, most filmmakers don’t understand that all their digital movies will likely be lost one day, and sooner than they realize. All of my original shots will be around for generations to come and it that alone can be worth it.
Are you happy with the finished result?
On the final day of color work in New York, another film's producer walked into the color grading suite I was using and said, "Oh, I didn't know you shot this on 35mm!" Seeing Blue Ridge projected in HD at the Cinequest Film Festival also confirmed how well the story melded with the medium.